Becoming a career professional in anything takes a lot of drive and love for what you are doing in that career. Becoming a career professional in a sport takes that plus keeping yourself physically fit. Becoming a career professional in the sport of professional bass fishing where you don't have a guaranteed paycheck at the end of the week can be risky. For the very few who have been able to be successful at it it can be very rewarding. At age 58, Harold Allen can comfortably say that he is among the few who have achieved success in making it as a professional angler.
Recently Harold made his 14th appearance at the Bassmaster Classic. Having known Harold for several years and interviewing him scads of times, I have learned a respect for him as an accomplished angler. He has always had a calm composure, ready with a joke or a smile. I rode with Harold on day one, August 1st of the Classic. His excitement for the sport was evident as he checked his supplies, making sure everything was locked down for the long ride ahead. A professional through and through, with each fan and well wisher that approached him as we were trailered to the boat ramp, he greeted each one letting them know that they were important and appreciated. Then, once we were launched, we watched as each boat was called. "Boat 24 - Harold Allen" and with a wave of his hand, down went the throttle and the boat race was on.
The thrill of each aspect of the tournament was still there for him, but with a seasoned calmness. The ride to the first targeted fishing hole took almost an hour and a half. We arrived at 7:55, and by 8:03 he had his first hook wet. Excited, anxious, kept telling himself outloud but in a whispered voice "Slow down, slow down". At 8:07 he put his first fish in the boat and the first nervous edge was smoothed. By 8:23 his first limit was in the livewell. Ok. Stop. Think. Got a limit in the livewell, next is to weigh them all and put the colored cull tabs on them for quick culling. With that done, it's back to fishing.
Being a guide for so many years, he taught me throughout the day. He is an avid worm fisherman, and he would throw his ReAction worm rig perpendicular to the bank. While he caught a good many of his fish doing this, if a fish gave an aggressive strike but missed the bait, he would put his worm down and pick up his spinnerbait then throwing it parallel to the bank, many times then putting the fish in the boat. He would talk through this decision making process, and I learned a lot. Throughout the rest of the short day of fishing, Harold caught, weighed, compared and culled fish. Keeping check on the time, knowing how long it took to get there and how much time he'd need to get back, he continued fishing, pushing the time limit.
Heading back, an alarm went off indicating that the motor was hot. Vegetation had gotten into the water intake to the water pump. Unable to free it by throwing the boat in reverse, letting it cool for a few minutes or scrubbing off the vent areas, Harold was losing precious time. The boat safety mechanism would not let him get on plane until the problem was eradicated. Finally, he had to jump in the water and clear it out by hand. We were off again for the long ride back to the boat ramp. He pushed his Skeeter / Yamaha to the limits and made it back with a few minutes to spare. He only had 11-10 lbs to weigh in, but it was enough to put him in the top 5 for day 1.
Coming into day 2, he was approached by some locals and informed that he was fishing in a leased property area and warned not to come back to it. Two of his best producing holes were suddenly taken away from him, and he had to scramble to find new ones. Adapting to new conditions is something that comes with the territory, and Harold is no stranger to it. He found new areas that produced well enough to keep him in the running, inching up the standings to 4th place at the end of day 2, making the cut to the top 25 continuing to day 3.
At the final weigh in, after most of the rest of the field had been weighed, the top five anglers who had not yet weighed were brought to the stage in a fantastic show of fireworks and smoke. They rose from the smoke, were introduced and sat on stools, watching as each weighed in. As each new leader was established, he was put in the hotseat on the other side of the stage. Harold had that seat for a short while, but was beat out by Gary Klein and then once more by Michael Iaconelli, who ultimately won the event. Later, when asked how he felt about how he did in the tournament, Harold replied "I feel real good. I had a game plan and I stuck to it. I could have done better if I didn't get run out of my two best fishing holes."
Tournament fishing was not always the plan that Harold had. In 1970, with a love for the outdoors and knowing that a 9-5 desk job made him crazy, he began guiding on Sam Rayburn. He did this for just over a year and then moved to Toledo Bend and guided for many years. Tommy Martin, another renowned professional angler, was very instrumental in pointing Harold toward tournament fishing. "I was very apprehensive about it" he stated, but in 1977 began fishing the local tournament circuits. In that same first year of tournament angling, he qualified to fish his first Bass Master Classic. He continued to make the classic for five out of six consecutive years. He continues to fish circuits like Bass 'n Bucks, Sealy Team and Walmart BFL while following the BASS Invitationals and open tournaments. If he's not on the water he is conducting seminars.
When asked what his goal in this industry is, he replied "I'd like to simply do as well as I can possibly do and at the same time be a good Ambassador for the sport. So very few can actually make a living doing what we do and be successful. I enjoy the outdoors, and working a 9-5 job would make me nuttier." So, how do you become a successful professional angler? "The one neat thing about this sport is that while financial stability helps you to have the necessary tools and time to do it, it does not guarantee success. It takes a lot of hard work and knowledge of fish habitat. Anyone with a strong enough drive and willingness to learn can succeed. I am still learning new tricks. You have to continuously look forward. If your mind stays on the last tournament and what you could have or should have done you lose focus on what you need to do next."
This is a very expensive career choice, as any tournament angler can attest to. "There are 10 qualifying BASS events all over the country. One of the hardest aspects is the travel. The California trail alone is a 4700 mile trip. Pulling a boat, you'll get about 10 miles to the gallon, plus your room stay, food and of course entry fee for the tournament. Each tournament event averages about $2,500 - $3,000 in costs, so it is hard to jump on the trail and follow it for less than $30,000. If someone is just starting out with a goal to fish the Classic, they would have to fish the Opens first and then do well enough to qualify to fish the Tour."
I asked Harold if, given his experience and expertise does he worry about the competition when fishing the local circuits on his home lakes? "Oh, yes" he replied. "In any given tournament about 10-15% of the field is exceptionally strong. (Stan) Burgay, (Dicky) Newberry and some of those south Louisiana boys just to name a few are very strong contenders. If their work situation allowed them, they would easily be Classic contenders."
Harold is truly a dedicated sportsman and a great ambassador for the sport of bass fishing. Along with our other "Lakes Area" professional bass anglers, we can be proud of them representing East Texas.
Harold's sponsors include: Skeeter boats, Yamaha motors, Pinpoint Positioning Systems, ReAction Baits, Cyclone Lures, Solar Bat Sunglasses, Shimano, Rod Wrap and CMC Marine Equipment.